An Example of a Good Pitch

We’ve received ten pitches for Don’t Hack This Game, which excites me! And in anthology production, you got good pitches and you get sad ones. I’m going to show you an example of a good pitch, from Rob Donoghue. (Or, rather, he’ll show you.)

Proposal #1: Don’t Turn Your Back
~2000 Words
Rob Donoghue – [redacted]
I’ve Written for Evil Hat, MWP, WOTC and White Wolf.

Don’t Turn Your Back: A game of action, espionage, and the prices to be paid for both.

This is, for all intents and purposes, a hack for using DRYH to run stories in the style of Casino Royale – superspy stories with all the trappings of gadgetry and badassery, but with nightmares and madness being replaced with the growing threat of compromise and moral decay. Characters are Agents, badass masters of espionage, assigned to stop The Opposition from carrying out their Sinister Master Plan.

While this was conceived in the vein of Daniel Craig’s James Bond, the idea is flexible enough to handle much of the “action-espionage” genre. This is not suited to games of quiet intrigue – it is for a game where intrigue is shaken (not stirred) with excitement, violence and sex.

Mechanical Tweaks:

  • Exhaustion is now moral exhaustion, the toll of taking lives and trying to live in the strange limbo of a spy’s life. Go to far, and you’re In the Wind.
  • Madness is Support (sounds nice, doesn’t it) – you can draw on it for resources and gadgets, but doing so runs the risk of Blowing Your Cover.
  • Talents – Two Statements, one “I Always” and one “I Never”, both with a qualifying conjunction from the GM(A la Mortal Coil)
  • Despair is The Master Plan, and serve as a clock for the game.

New Elements:

  • Asset Dice – A single blue die to represent that NPC helping you out. Useful, but expendable. Works like extra discipline, and can be sacrificed to recover from being In The Wind or a Blown Cover, but the Asset goes to the GM.
  • Help and Trust – Loan another agent your discipline dice for a roll, but he may choose to put any bad outcome on you.
  • Secret Agendas – In multi-agent games, everyone has their own agenda over and above stopping the opposition.

I like this; it clearly states the idea and the points of interest for the article. It tells me what to expect. And, most importantly, it makes me want to read the thing.

You need to sell the anthology editor on the idea first and foremost. Your pitch to them has to say “I know you’re going to get a few ideas, and maybe even one like this one, but what I have here is worthy of your attention.”

Oh, and you need to do that in, like, 30 seconds. Because that’s all you’ll get if you have a boring pitch. How do you handle that? With deliberate detail to the reader’s eyes. (In the case, the reader in the antho editor, like me.)

First para is a single sentence, and my eye bounces there. Then it bounces to the “Mechanical Tweaks” heading, and then I see bullets there as well as the next section. This is all within roughly a second of my eyes having contact with the email, before actually reading it.

And now, going in, I feel like there’s some structure to the pitch that gives me confidence in what I’m about to read. Given that I’m not actually reading these much before the pitch window closes (as I have other things that I need to work on), deciding to read his pitch right away is an accomplishment.

If Rob had put the same information in two large, dense paragraphs, my initial impression would have been to sigh and file it away.

That Said…

Now, Rob broke one of the rules in the pitch: 200 words on the synopsis. His was a touch over 300. Yesterday, I said on Twitter that part of the point of pitch guidelines is to demonstrate that you can stick to guidelines. And here, Rob gets a pass…and in no way does he get that pass because he’s one of the owners of Evil Hat.[1]

He gets it because I know he can write to guidelines. There’s a dirty not-quite-secret: once you prove yourself, you get more flexibility in how you handle things like this. The degree depends on the editor involved and your rapport with him or her, naturally. With me, it’s simple: if I’m intrigued enough to where I want your article and I know you can write to spec, as long as your pitch doesn’t bore me or piss me off we’re good.

And he gets it because what he wrote was good. The intro was spot on, and the backup material told me what he’s thinking in a quick & clear way. In fact, it’s material he could have tossed out of the email and kept as notes for himself to make the pitch shorter, but it’s good material for me.

If I don’t know you, and you demonstrate not writing to spec, then your pitch had better be damned interesting to me. You’ll have to work harder than someone who did follow the guidelines.

And here’s where it gets really sticky: often, shorter is better, because it’s a teaser trailer for the article. So I might just like that shorter pitch someone sends in over the longer one you do.


In short: Rob’s got a good pitch. The proof is in the fact that I’m going to take it. But don’t tell him. I’m going to wait until after the pitch window closes to let him know. *shhhh*

– Ryan


I’ll share with you one more direct not-quite-secret about anthology editors: you can actually, you know, query us about breaking the rules. There was an interesting 500 word idea that was posted up that I might have taken if the author wrote and said “hey, I have this idea, but it’s only 500 words.” We might say “no” or we might start a conversation. But you won’t know until you ask.

[1] I chuckled at his footnote about his wife’s comment, because it’s true. :)


6 Responses to An Example of a Good Pitch

  1. MrPrim says:

    Now I’m suddenly struck with the idea for a DRYH Hack called “Rest Your Head” or “Don’t Wake Up” or something catchy, I’ll get the guys in marketting to give it a once over (“Don’t Wake Up, Without Your Ovaltine”; they’ll love it Gary, Indiana”). I’m in no way good at writing/advice/design/porridge, so this isn’t a “pitch”, but all of this DRYH Hack stuff is making me think. A game about wandering in a Dreamland… Oneironauts diving in to rescue loved ones from the grip of the dream beasts. Lovecraft’s Dream Quest meets Coraline meets The Wizard of Oz.

    For stats…
    Psyche, your groundedness and ability to think like a rational person. Good for getting your out of problems and even outright ignoring dream problems. Too much of this and you end up Waking Up, dragged out of Dreamland (?)….
    Oneiros, your creativity and ability to shape the dream around you. Go too far and you Lose It, leaving your body an empty husk as your mad Dream Self goes wandering.

    Hrm… this idea is just a nugget and not a very meaty nugget. Oh well. Still sort of fun to share.

    • Honestly, it sounds intriguing. Also, see Ryan’s post here: http://ryanmacklin.com/2011/12/the-two-ways-to-fail/

    • MrPrim says:

      Listen, Jeremy. You seem nice. But I’ve honed FAILING BY NOT DOING into an art-form. At this point, I’m FAILING AT THINGS I DON’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT! You want me to break all of that masterful training?

      Shame on you! ;)

    • MrPrim says:

      Now, on second thought, I’m coming to realize that a game like this is still basically Don’t Rest Your Head, but wearing different pants. What I need is a “Dream World” game that is actually HAPPY and FUN and IRREVERENT, where the Dream Universe is Cartoony and Adventure Time-y and exciting. Where adventure abounds and being banished back to Wakefulness is a dire punishment comparable to falling asleep in DRYH.

      Don’t Wake Me Yet – a Game of Childhood Adventure in a Land of Make-Believe.

  2. I’m noticing a pattern with the few pitches I’ve done. I shoot for brevity. If I can get the editor talking, that’s a success for me right now. Is this a good approach in general, or does it depend on the editor?

    And forgive my inexperience. Hopefully it’s a question with merit that will help others as well.